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Ding Dong -- a Surprisingly Unique Onomatopoeia

Although the modern reader would not think twice about reading the words "ding dong" and associating them with a bell or clock, the phrase is surprisingly scarce in Shakespeare's works, and all occur in the context of songs. In As You Like It, the pages describe the birds as singing "ding a ding ding," matching only half the phrase. The only other occurrence in Shakespeare is in a song of Portia's in Merchant of Venice, which she uses to usher Bassanio into the choosing of a casket for the chance at winning her hand in marriage: "Let us all ring fancy's knell:/ I'll begin it Ding, dong, bell." (MeV 3.2.71) Like in Ariel's usage, the ding dong sound refers to funeral bells. Also like Ariel's usage, Portia is singing in the hopes of getting Bassanio to do something: in her case, choose the right casket, and in Ariel's, for Ferdinand to follow him around the island. Thus we can see the onomatopoeia "ding dong" as a device of persuasive song, associated in the mind of the author with one character willing or magicking another into action.


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